Review: David Gordon Green’s ‘Halloween Kills’

Halloween Kills Review - 2021 Movie

Halloween (2018) was a shot in the arm to a dwindling franchise that nobody saw coming. Brainstormed by a couple of comedy dudes — David Gordon Green, who also directed, and co-writer Danny McBride — the film is a powerful treatise on trauma, a devilishly inventive slasher and a clever riff on what the modern world might make of Michael Myers, grifter true crime podcast hosts and all. Halloween puts franchise stalwart Jamie Lee Curtis front and center once again, offering the gifted actress the meatiest role she’s had in these movies since Halloween 2. Green and McBride always envisioned their take on Halloween as a trilogy, so now we have the inevitable part two, dubiously entitled Halloween Kills. With events picking up where the 2018 film ends, the 12th franchise installment has the unenviable task of continuing the story while also setting things up for the upcoming 2021 release Halloween Ends. To its great credit, Halloween Kills manages to up the ante in essentially every way possible. 

Although Halloween Kills mostly takes place in the present day, there’s a through-line to the events of 1978 that fleshes out the story. In this gorgeously shot prelude, which evokes the feeling of the original film thanks to its grainy cinematography, rookie cop Hawkins (Thomas Mann) and his partner (played by indie favorite Jim Cummings) fall afoul of Michael, creating a schism. Elsewhere, a bunch of kids run into the masked killer and one of them can’t shake the meeting even in his adult years. Green, McBride and co-writer Scott Teems (who’s also working on Green’s Exorcist reboot) are primarily concerned with how Michael’s reign of terror irreparably damaged the town of Haddonfield, turning its inhabitants into paranoid doomsday preppers or bloodthirsty avengers out for vigilante justice. The former was deftly set up in Halloween via Laurie, while the latter is represented here by a grown-up Tommy Doyle (played by The Breakfast Club’s Anthony Michael Hall), who seems to have learned all the wrong lessons from surviving a night with Michael. 

Halloween Kills Review - 2021 Movie

Green weaves the 1978 flashbacks into the narrative in a way that doesn’t feel like he’s simply grasping for exposition. Moreover, the blanks are filled in only to a certain extent. Crucially, it’s still unclear what motivated Michael to murder his sister, or indeed the others all those years later. Rob Zombie attempted to explain the killer’s motivations in his unfairly maligned 2007 take, also confusingly named Halloween, but in doing so Zombie robbed Michael of what makes him so scary. Green and his co-writers know better than to provide any easy answers, instead simply establishing Michael as an unstoppable killing machine whose sole goal is to return to his childhood home where a sweet gay couple now live. Much of the first film’s humor has been erased, Green instead settling on a darker, more nihilistic tone that suits the increasingly drastic situation, as it becomes clear that Michael is on the loose again. However, the scenes with Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael McDonald) provide some much-needed levity regardless. 

It’s a good thing too, because for most of its 105-minute run-time, Halloween Kills is laser-focused on either murder or avengement. There have been complaints that the film is too violent, but it’s not called Halloween Hugs for a reason. The point is establishing Michael as an almost supernaturally powerful entity — the movie never quite goes there, thankfully, since this series hasn’t swum well in those waters before, but Laurie hints at his unknowable power —  so that, presumably, when The Shape is defeated in the final installment, it’ll be more of a cathartic win all round. The murderer’s lengthy rampage through town begins right where Halloween (2018) leaves off, at Laurie’s burning compound, where a group of unlucky firemen attempts to control the blaze and gets dispatched with ruthless efficiency for their troubles. It’s a tense, gruesome sequence that sets the violent tone for what’s to come as Haddonfield residents, recognizable and otherwise, are brutally killed all over town. The gore is hugely impressive throughout, Green presenting the practical FX with as much pride as they rightfully deserve, so the violence never feels dull or repetitive.  

Halloween Kills Review - 2021 Movie

Halloween Kills offers the most expansive view yet of Haddonfield as a place, taking sojourns to various homes, a local pub, a park and, of course, Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Although Halloween 2 locates much of its action there, Green roots Laurie, her daughter and granddaughter within its confines and lets everything unfold around them instead. It’s obvious the fight is eventually going to arrive on their doorstep, but when it happens, it’s not in the way even Laurie herself expects. Halloween (2018) is Laurie’s story, but she’s not so much sidelined as allowed to take a breather so somebody else can take centerstage, for better and worse. That person inevitably turns out to be Tommy, who arrogantly leads a mob and causes even more damage in the process (he was definitely a Donald Trump voter, let’s just say that much). Hall plays Tommy with a sneering superiority, but a speech that the character gives early on about that night highlights how he’s just as damaged as Laurie. Tommy’s trauma simply presents itself in an entirely different, and arguably even less helpful, way. 

Tommy is just one of several returning characters from John Carpenter’s seminal slasher. Lonnie, who was mentioned in passing in both the original Halloween and the 2018 reboot, shows up as the father of Allyson’s cheating boyfriend, Cameron (Dylan Arnold). And Lonnie, much like Tommy, reckons that Michael could easily be defeated if they just cornered him with a gun. Elsewhere, Tommy’s babysitting buddy Lindsey also returns, as played by original actress Kyle Richards. Those who know her fromThe Real Housewives of Beverly Hills will be shocked by the performer’s quiet, unassuming and naturalistic performance . As Lindsey listens intently to Tommy’s story or runs to hide from Michael, it’s clear that she is still that same terrified little girl underneath it all. Likewise, former nurse Marion, also played by original actress Nancy Stephens, is finally forced to face The Shape after narrowly avoiding him in 1978. Charles Cyphers, meanwhile, is given less to do as former sheriff Brackett, but it’s still nice to see him back. 

Halloween Kills Review - 2021 Movie

Technically, Officer Hawkins isn’t in the original Halloween, but the 2018 installment retconned his character, and Halloween Kills continues that story in an emotionally resonant way, particularly during actor Will Patton’s genuinely lovely scenes with Curtis. Although Judy Greer’s Karen spends much of the movie holed up with her mother in the hospital, there’s significantly less interaction between the three generations of Strode women than there is in Halloween (2018). This decision, aside from adding a further layer of intrigue to who’s going to survive, also showcases how the three characters have completely different ideas of how best to navigate such an impossible situation. Greer shines, as always, even when given little to do, but the moment when she first washes the blood off her hands upon arriving in the hospital is heartbreaking. She’s always been a brilliant actress, but Greer truly outdoes herself in Halloween Kills, even when tasked with simply keeping Laurie in check. Newcomer Andi Matichak, meanwhile, continues to impress as the plucky Allyson. 

Halloween Kills notably has one foot in the past, because the focus is on generational trauma and how different people cope with being forced to reckon with terrible events. Haddonfield rots from the inside thanks to Michael’s rampages, but his return doesn’t force people to come together — it drives them further apart. There are times when the film leans a little too heavily on this idea, such as when the chant “Evil dies tonight!” gets repeated so often it starts to resemble parody in real time. Indeed, there are already several memes based off it, but the fate of another Smiths Grove patient is a surprisingly devastating gut punch that solidifies just how little the townspeople understand about their predicament. The subtext might be text, but Halloween Kills’ relentlessly dark, even borderline hopeless, outlook lets nobody off the hook. The residents of Haddonfield might think themselves above Michael’s darker impulses, but they’re not actually all that different. 

Halloween Kills Review - 2021 Movie

As a middle chapter, Halloween Kills does an impressive job of furthering the story, including fleshing out what was introduced in part one, while also setting a course, presumably, for a big showdown in Halloween Ends. The film has more in common with Zombie’s relentlessly dark take on the series than most people would probably care to admit, but Green and his co-writers demonstrate a better grasp of what made audiences tick the first time around, while also establishing their story firmly in the modern world, where social media has dulled our collective empathy. There are plenty of shocks along the way, too, which is no small feat in a franchise with this much history. Halloween Kills may not be to everybody’s tastes, but there’s a reason for that “kills” in the title, beyond attention-grabbing marketing. The word refers not just to Michael himself but the rot at the core of Haddonfield, something the franchise has taken far too long to explore. Now it’s up to Halloween Ends to bring Michael home with the respect he deserves.

Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.